There’s more than one way to be a millionaire |

There’s more than one way to be a millionaire

Barry Smith

At last, there’s a career path for liberal-arts majors.

It’s called “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.”

You probably have seen this ABC quiz show, at least for a few minutes, in which a single contestant sits across from Regis Philbin and answers questions for money.

Quiz shows have a long history on television, dating back to the “$64,000 Question.” But none has seemed as ridiculously easy for as much money as “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.”

The classic of the genre is “Jeopardy.” Three brainy people try to beat each other to the buzzer to give questions to the answers.

These people pull facts out of the air with an ease that frightened Weird Al Yankovich into writing a song about it, “I Lost on Jeopardy.”

When in doubt on “Jeopardy,” always answer “Madagascar.” That’s what I would do, if I ever got on the show. I’d panic on something like, “He’s the cartoon mouse who made Walt Disney famous,” and answer, “What is Madagascar?”

There’s another show I see sometimes called “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” The contestants have to beat Ben Stein, who is a lawyer and knows a little bit more than the average lawyer. The payoffs aren’t big, though – people who win typically take home $2,000 or so in cash.

Apparently, Ben isn’t putting up all of his money.

There’s also the “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” ripoff show on Fox called “Greed,” which has a nasty streak. The contestants play on a team, although they’re allowed to go head-to-head to try and steal their teammate’s money.

I watched a guy the other night go for $2 million on “Greed.” But this show has the kind of questions that nobody could possible know – you simply have to make your best guess.

For example, for the $2 million, this guy had to pick the four most recognizable smells from a list of nine. This takes the same kind of intellectual skill as, say, “Family Feud.”

He got three of them right, but then it came down to tuna or chocolate. He said tuna. The “right” answer was chocolate. How would you like to lose $2 million because more people recognize the smell of a Hershey bar than Chicken of the Sea?

“Hi, honey. What did you do today?”

“I lost $2 million.”

“Gee, that’s too bad. Well, sit down because dinner is almost ready. We’re having casserole.”

“Yeah, I smelled it on the way in.”

The appeal of “Millionaire” – aside from Regis, of course – is the simplicity of the questions.

“When you got dressed this morning,” Regis might ask “did you: A. Put your left shoe on your left foot. B. Put your right shoe on your left foot. C. Put your right shoe on your left ear. D. Stick both shoes up your nose.”

“I would have to say A, Regis.”

“Is that your final answer?”

“Of course it’s my final answer. What kind of moron do you think I am?”

“A is right!” Regis exlaims. “That’s worth $32,000!”

You’re sitting at home thinking, I’m pretty sure I could have answered that one.

To win a million bucks on “Jeopardy,” you would have to know the middle name of the daughter of the Turkish general who won the third battle of the Crimean War.

“Who was, um, Madagascar?”

Actually, those aren’t real questions.

The real $1 million question this week on “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” fell somewhere in between.

Here was John Carpenter, an IRS collection agent from Connecticut, sitting opposite of Regis for the single largest payday ever given away on television – if you exclude the NFL, NBA, and Oprah Winfrey.

It didn’t really seem fair that the contestant is an IRS collection agent. Anybody else would have been sitting there trying to figure out how much money a $1 million prize would really be after taxes, but Carpenter probably already had it calculated so he could concentrate on the question.

“Which of these U.S. presidents appeared on the television series ‘Laugh-In’? Regis asked. “Lyndon Johnson. Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter. Gerald Ford.”

If you’ve watched the “Millionaire” show, you know that contestants have three opportunities to ask for help. One “lifeline,” as they’re called, is the ability to telephone someone for their assistance on the answer.

Carpenter asks to phone his dad, and Regis gets him on the line. “Your son is going for $1 million and he needs your help to get there,” Regis says, building the drama.

“Actually,” says Carpenter to his dad, “I don’t really need your help. I just wanted you to know I’m going to win the million dollars. The U.S. president who appeared on Laugh-In is Richard Nixon, and that’s my final answer.”

If any of my friends get on “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, they can feel free to call me for help. But only if the question is, “What’s that big island off the southeast coast of Africa?”

Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.